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St. Louis PrideFest unites queer community after tumultuous year of legislative attacks

Sophia Lewis, 13, of Maryland Heights, helps hoist a giant rainbow flag down Market Street on Sunday, June 25, 2023, St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Sophia Lewis, 13, of Maryland Heights, helps hoist a giant rainbow flag down Market Street on Sunday during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis. St. Louis PrideFest is celebrating its 43rd anniversary.

This year marked Mateo Johnnie’s first St. Louis Pride as an out transgender man.

"I just love it. I love the community," the 17-year-old from St. Charles County said. "I love being able to celebrate my own individuality with so many people and just learning how to be more accepting of everyone around me."

Johnnie was one of the more than 300,000 festivalgoers who packed downtown St. Louis after a year in which the LGBTQ community — and particularly transgender youth — saw Missouri's Republican-controlled legislatureplace restrictions on transgender Missourians receiving health care and playing sports.

Nearly 50 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed in Missouri during the last legislative session,according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The efforts are part of a wave of efforts by Republicans nationwide. In total, state legislatures filed more than 500 such bills, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker.

"It really just opened my eyes to how unaccepting the rest of the world is and everybody around me," Johnnie said of the restrictions, adding they set back his own transitioning journey. "I really just want to be a part of the community and make a better influence so that we can make the change [and] progress because we won't stand for this. We will continue to fight, and we will overcome."

A festival goer waits for the annual St. Louis PrideFest parade to begin on Sunday, June 25, 2023, in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A festivalgoer waits for the annual St. Louis PrideFest parade to begin while wearing a transgender flag on Sunday in downtown St. Louis.

While Republican-led states have restricted protections for LGBTQ people, Democratic-led states have expanded protections. In the Illinois legislature, the Democratic supermajority passed a trioof billsaimed to create more equity in governmental language and hiring practices and would make it easier for LGBTQ couples who resided in other states to marry in Illinois.

Missouri’s largest cities also have pushed back on the restrictions. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas signed legislation making the city a “safe haven” for gender-affirming care, and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones signed an executive order giving transgender St. Louisans additional levels of protection when it comes to city policies and procedures.

Some St. Louis Pride attendees said efforts by Illinois leaders to expand protections for the LGBTQ community are sending some people to the Illinois side of the St. Louis region.

“It's really disappointing to see the state that I grew up in say that we don't deserve rights,” said Em Koch, a 25-year-old resident of Columbia, Illinois, who was attending PrideFest with their friends. “I'm actually looking for places to live at the moment, and we're like, 'It's cheaper in Missouri, but we want to keep our rights.' It's sad that we have to think about that.”

James Blaze, right, dances in front of Ellie Morrell while she attempts to throw a rugby ball through one of several holes in a cornhole-like game set up on Saturday, June 24, 2023 at St. Louis Pride Fest in downtown St. Louis. Blaze was at the celebration tabling for the St. Louis Crusaders, an all-inclusive rugby team. “We’re out here trying to recruit and show people about rugby,” Blaze said. “Any size, shape, gender — you can play rugby.”
Tristen Rouse
/
St. Louis Public Radio
James Blaze, right, dances in front of Ellie Morrell while she attempts to throw a rugby ball through one of several holes in a cornhole-like game set up on Saturday at the St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis. Blaze was at the celebration tabling for the St. Louis Crusaders, an all-inclusive rugby team. “We’re out here trying to recruit and show people about rugby,” Blaze said. “Any size, shape, gender — you can play rugby.”

Despite the challenging landscape, community leaders said this is a time for the queer community and its allies to come together at events like St. Louis PrideFest.

Jordan Braxton, the public relations director for Pride St. Louis and a member of the City of St. Louis’ LGBTQIA+ Advisory Board, said there isn’t much that can be compared to looking out to the Gateway Arch during the PrideFest parade and seeing a sea of supporters and flags.

“One thing that our community is, we are resilient and we are resistant,” Braxton said. “We will be out here showing the legislators and the haters out there that we will not be erased. Trans people and gay people have been around forever, and we’re not going anywhere.”

See more photos from this year's St. Louis PrideFest below from photojournalists Brian Munoz and Tristen Rouse.

Amy Brock, 33, of Maryland Heights, holds her daughter Ellianna, 2, on Sunday, June 25, 2023, before the start of the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis. “It’s her first Pride,” Brock said of her daughter. “We’re happy to be here.”
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Amy Brock, 33, of Maryland Heights, holds her daughter Ellianna, 2, on Sunday before the start of the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis. “It’s her first Pride,” Brock said. “We’re happy to be here.”
Mayor Tishaura Jones greets parade goers on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Mayor Tishaura Jones greets paradegoers on Sunday during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Curtis Ebl, 31, of Maplewood, plays the trumpet with the BandTogether Marching Band on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during the St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Curtis Ebl, 31, of Maplewood, plays the trumpet with the BandTogether Marching Band on Sunday during the St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
A pallet of color floods the road on Sunday, June 25, 2023, as a giant rainbow flag made its way down Market Street during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A pallet of color floods the road on Sunday as a giant rainbow flag made its way down Market Street during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
 Thousands of beads are packed into a box on Sunday, June 25, 2023, before the St. Louis Pride Parade begins in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Thousands of beads are packed into a box on Sunday before the St. Louis Pride Parade begins in downtown St. Louis.
Pride fans and flags for sale and Dylan Pierson dances in the sun on Saturday, June 24, 2023 during St. Louis Pride Fest in downtown St. Louis. “I think that right now is just an important time to celebrate who we are and being gay and being trans and being queer,” Pierson said. “I think it’s very crucial that we come out and we show ourselves and show that we’re not going anywhere.”
Tristen Rouse
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Pride fans and flags are for sale, left, and Dylan Pierson dances in the sun on Saturday during St. Louis Pride Fest in downtown St. Louis. “I think that right now is just an important time to celebrate who we are and being gay and being trans and being queer,” Pierson said. “I think it’s very crucial that we come out and we show ourselves and show that we’re not going anywhere.”
St. Louis Pride Fest attendees take photos and videos of emcee Trixie Larue dances to Katy Perry’s song “Roar” on Saturday, June 24, 2023 in downtown St. Louis. The performance was an encoree of sorts, with Larue’s co-emcee jokingly encouraging Larue to get on all fours and crawl like a lion.
Tristen Rouse
/
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis PrideFest attendees take photos and videos of emcee Trixie Larue dances to Katy Perry’s song “Roar” on Saturday in downtown St. Louis. The performance was an encore of sorts, with Larue’s co-emcee jokingly encouraging Larue to get on all fours and crawl like a lion.
Adrienne Small, 26, of St. Ann, belts out a scream as 2023 Queen of Pride Analyse Thropic takes the stage on Saturday, June 24, 2023, during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Adrienne Small, 26, of St. Ann, belts out a scream as 2023 Queen of Pride Analyse Thropic takes the stage on Saturday during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Jay Mac, 21, dances in a fountain of water streaming from a fire truck on Saturday, June 24, 2023 at St. Louis Pride Fest in downtown St. Louis. Mac and a group of their friends attended the annual Pride celebration because, “We’re gay and we love it,” Mac said.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jay Mac, 21, dances in a fountain of water streaming from a fire truck on Saturday at St. Louis Pride Fest in downtown St. Louis. Mac and a group of their friends attended the annual Pride celebration because, “We’re gay and we love it,” Mac said.
Ariana Gibson, right, and her son Kai, 3, play in the puddles caused by water streaming from a fire truck on Saturday, June 24, 2023 at St. Louis Pride Fest in downtown St. Louis. “I’m bisexual and I have been around LGBT-everything my entire life,” Gibson said. “It’s a fun place to be.”
Tristen Rouse
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Ariana Gibson, right, and her son Kai, 3, play in the puddles caused by water streaming from a fire engine on Saturday at St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis. “I’m bisexual and I have been around LGBT-everything my entire life,” Gibson said. “It’s a fun place to be.”
Alex Shero, 29, of Lafayette Square, throws her arms in the air while marching on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Alex Shero, 29, of Lafayette Square, throws her arms in the air while marching on Sunday during St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Owen McKie, 15, of Kirkwood, sports a unicorn headband on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Owen McKie, 15, of Kirkwood, sports a unicorn headband on Sunday during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Alderman Rasheen Aldridge (14th Ward) waves to the crowd on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during the annual St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Alderman Rasheen Aldridge, 14th Ward, waves to the crowd on Sunday during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Brenda Kelch, 57, of St. Charles (second from right) and Kelly Randazzo, 22, of Maryland Heights (in pink) throw their hands in the air as they have their portrait made on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during the annual St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Brenda Kelch, 57, of St. Charles (second from right) and Kelly Randazzo, 22, of Maryland Heights (in pink) throw their hands in the air as they have their portrait made on Sunday during the annual St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
2023 Ms. Pride Moxie Conton waves to the crowd on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
2023 Ms. Pride Moxie Conton waves to the crowd on Sunday during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Thousands of parade goers fill Market Street on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Thousands of paradegoers line Market Street on Sunday during the St. Louis Pride Parade in downtown St. Louis.
Raina Butler, 19, of O’Fallon, Ill., reacts while watching the St. Louis Pride Parade on Sunday, June 25, 2023, in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Raina Butler, 19, of O’Fallon, Ill., reacts while watching the St. Louis Pride Parade on Sunday in downtown St. Louis.
Alderman Shane Cohn (3rd Ward) belts out “Happy Pride!” on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during the annual St. Louis Pride Parade on Market Street in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Alderman Shane Cohn, Ward 3, belts out “Happy Pride!” on Sunday during the St. Louis Pride Parade on Market Street in downtown St. Louis.
Ava Hankins, 21, of Tower Grove East, reacts as Nina Thompson, 21, of Webster Groves, hula hoops on Saturday, June 24, 2023, during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Ava Hankins, 21, of Tower Grove East, reacts as Nina Thompson, 21, of Webster Groves, Hula-Hoops on Saturday during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Sean Hempsey, of the St. Louis Glass softball team, gets dunked after Nikki Beverly, 48, of Belle Nor, smacks the target when she missed all her throws at the dunk tank on Saturday, June 24, 2023, during the St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Sean Hempsey, of the St. Louis Glass softball team, gets dunked after Nikki Beverly, 48, of Bel-Nor, smacks the target when she missed all her throws at the dunk tank on Saturday during the St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
2023 Queen of Pride Analyse Thropic takes a dollar from a fan on Saturday, June 24, 2023, during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
2023 Queen of Pride Analyse Thropic takes a dollar from a fan on Saturday during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
on Saturday, June 24, 2023, St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Yaretzi, a 9-year-old Chihuahua, stands next to her owner, Rodney Rodriguez, on Saturday during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Ebony Harris, right, gently pokes Beja Washington’s mask while they relax in the shade on Saturday, June 24, 2023 during St. Louis Pride Fest in downtown St. Louis.
Tristen Rouse
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Ebony Harris, right, gently pokes Beja Washington’s mask while they relax in the shade on Saturday during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Celeste Collazo, 22, of Swansea, Vega Slinger, 20, of Tower Grove South, and Bridget Seger, 21, of Swansea, enjoy music from a DJ on Saturday, June 24, 2023, during the St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Celeste Collazo, 22, of Swansea; Vega Slinger, 20, of Tower Grove South; and Bridget Seger, 21, of Swansea, enjoy music from a DJ on Saturday during the St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brionne Garrison, 31, of Creve Couer, reacts after being unable to get a rugby ball in a cut out board on Saturday, June 24, 2023, during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis. “I’m really just trying my best,” she said.”It’s harder than it looks.”
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Brionne Garrison, 31, of Creve Coeur, reacts after being unable to get a rugby ball in a cut-out board on Saturday during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis. “I’m really just trying my best,” she said. ”It’s harder than it looks.”
Various pins are displayed for sale on Sunday, June 25, 2023, during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Various pins are displayed for sale on Sunday during St. Louis PrideFest in downtown St. Louis.

Brian Munoz is the interim Digital Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.